True blue at the local

Sarah Miller: Deck Chair Theatre, Black & Tran

Hung Le, Ningali Lawford, Black & Tran

Hung Le, Ningali Lawford, Black & Tran

Deckchair Theatre’s recent touring production Black & Tran transports us, theatrically speaking, to a pub in Carlton (Melbourne) while transforming the performance space into a cabaret venue with its own bar—an invitation to settle down, relax and get into the swing of things. It worked for me and I hate pubs, particularly the ones evoked in this production. It’s the old fashioned kind that comes with a telly for watching sport, a pool table and a dartboard—the true blue, Aussie bloke kind of pub. I don’t drink beer, hate watching sport on TV, can’t play pool or darts and loathe the aggro and punch-ups that I associate with the beer guzzling, poofter bashing, sexist and racist stupidities of the dinki-di Aussie. Well that’s the way it was when I was growing up.

In general, I don’t like stand-up comedy either and for many of the reasons cited above, so I should have hated this combination of pub culture and stand-up, but I didn’t. I can’t tell you whether or not pubs have changed but in Black & Tran, you get the impression that these old fashioned bars are now a positive haven—given the tidal wave of gentrification that has swept over most cities—for those who don’t want to participate in the white majority middle class culture of wine bars and brasseries. In this pub, instead of a big white bloke with a red-neck and a gut wearing a singlet and stubbies with his crack hanging out, there—glued to the cricket on telly—is a lanky, bespectacled Vietnamese man. When his nemesis arrives, far from a head-kicking skinhead, she’s a cheerful Aboriginal woman who swings into the bar with a friendly, “Hey Tokyo, ya wanna game a’ stick?”

While Ningali Lawford takes some convincing that Hung Le, whose Australian accent is so broad you could thwack it with a cricket bat, is in fact Vietnamese-Australian and not Japanese, Hung Le himself has a bit to do in coming to terms with an Aboriginal Australian. As they trade tall tales and true and tell lots of totally tragic jokes about eating dogs and snakes in sometimes hysterically visceral detail, the audience cacks itself in recognition of all those racial slurs and cliches. Perhaps surprisingly, this first generation migrant and original Australian have a lot in common. Neither of them spoke English until their late primary years. Neither of them is seen to be a ‘real’ Australian and, of course, they share a loathing of Pauline Hanson and those of her ilk. Hanson—referred to throughout as the “Oxley-moron”—is the target of merciless satire.

Despite the trading of racial stereotypes and cultural misconceptions, this is an amiable piss-take rather than a savage satire. And unlike a lot of stand-up, its message is inclusive rather than exclusive, its thrust mildly educational and its concerns humanitarian. In this infectious and light-hearted production there are serious issues raised but, in the end, this show suggests that one solution to the problems of injustice, prejudice and intolerance, at least at street level, is to be found in humour and a willingness to engage with the regulars at your local pub.

So maybe it’s time for me to throw off my ingrained prejudices and head on down to the local for a game of stick. My pool playing would surely test the limits of anyone’s tolerance!

Black & Tran, director Jean Pierre Mignon, created by & starring Ningali Lawford, Hung Le, Deckchair Theatre, Victoria Hall, Fremantle, May 15-23, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, May 24-26

RealTime issue #44 Aug-Sept 2001 pg. 30

© Sarah Miller; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2001
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